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Piceance Basin and the Past

The first evidence of people in the Northwest Colorado Plateau began around 13,000 years ago. Semi-permanent settlements and abstract rock art, dated 6400 BC to 400 BC, are found in this area.  Many archaeological and paleontology sites are found in the Piceance Basin and are protected by state and federal regulations.

Of five tribes citing ancestry from the Fremont culture, ending about the 14th century, the Ute Tribe are regarded to have been the primary inhabitants of this area. Either the Ute or the Shoshone are credited with the name Piceance, meaning “Land of Tall Grass “. By the mid-seventeenth century the Utes were utilizing the horse with their hunting and semi-nomadic lifestyle. Horses had been introduced into Central America and migrated north from about the 16th century. In 1776 the first Europeans were briefly in this area. By 1881 large numbers of the Utes were relocated out of this area. However, local oral histories indicate some families of Utes continued to live in and visit this area for hunting into the 1920s.

Starting with the Homestead Act in 1862, there were ninety 160-acre claims in the Piceance Basin by 1899.  The conservation movement began in the 1890s and continues today, affecting the private landowners, and government agencies alike, who are given the management and utilization of public lands.

As early as 1882, settlers crossing this region recorded seeing bands of wild horses. With the depression of the 1930s, herds were increased by the release or escape of domestic horses from abandoned homesteads and small ranches. Today, these wild descendants share this basin with large oil and gas exploration activities and livestock grazing. 


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